Quezon City, Eulogio Rodríguez, Sr. Boulevard: The History of the SVD in the Philippines and Christ the King Mission Seminary

In 1933, the Christ the King Mission Seminary was built along the España Boulevard Extension (now the E. Rodriguez Sr. Boulevard), in 1933, as part of the Catholic expansions to counteract the growing Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church, founded 1902), during the American occupation of the Philippines (1898-1946). The seminary was established by the missionaries of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD, or Societas Verbi Divini), who had first arrived in the Philippines in 1909.

02 St. Arnold Janssen
Portrait of St. Arnold Janssen at the Buttenbruch Hall Lobby

The Society of the Divine Word was founded by the Dutch saint Arnold Janssen (1837-1909), in the Netherlands in 1875. Soon the SVD was expanding its missions outside Europe, starting in 1882, and eventually in the Philippines in 1909. The SVD missions started in the northern part of the island of Luzon, starting the province of Abra with two priests: Fr. Luis Beckert and Fr. Juan Scheiermann, where they established the Our Lady of the Pillar Parish in the town of San Isidro. Expansions of the mission in provinces of Abra and Ilocos continued with the arrival of Fr. Miguel Hergesheier, Fr. Joseph Stigler, Fr. Philip Beck and Fr. Bruno Drescher in 1910 to establish the Our Lady of Peace Parish in La Paz, and the SVD Regional House (est. 1911) in Tayum, both in the province of Abra. This was followed by Bro. Patricio Grabsch, Bro. Ulrich Meyer, Fr. Henry Buerschen, Fr. Teodoro Buttenbruch and Fr. Frances Blasczyk, in 1912, and would later found the Colegio del Sagrado Corazon (est. 1920) in Bangued, Abra, the Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Lacub, Abra (est. 1930); and the Divine Word Retreat House in Baguio City (est. 1932), the St. Joseph Parish (est. 1933) in Claveria, Cagayan; the San Roque Parish (est. 1935) in Sanchez Mira, Cagayan. By 1925, the SVD would take over the former Jesuit’s Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepción in Vigan, Ilocos; and eventually rename the seminary and school as the Divine Word College of Vigan. Missions to the island of Lubang, in Occidental Mindoro, started in 1922, with the arrival of Fr. Henry Demond and followed by Fr. Carlos Krusenbaum in 1923, who would establish the San Rafael Parish; which would eventually lead to the 1936 establishment of the Apostolic Prelature of Mindoro and the founding of the Santo Niño Cathedral and the Holy Infant Academy (est. 1937) in Calapan, the San Nicolas De Tolentino Parish (est. 1937) in Naujan, the St. Augustine Parish (est. 1937) in Pinamalayan, the St. John The Baptist Parish (est. 1937) in Pola, and the St. Joseph Parish (est. 1938) in Bongabong.

The SVD missionaries in Abra were followed by their sister congregation, the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS Latin: Servae Spiritus Sancti) in 1912, but the sisters soon moved to Manila to establish the Holy Ghost College (now the College of the Holy Spirit) in 1913, along Enrique Mendiola Street; while the SVD missionaries ran the Santa Rita boys’ dormitory (now the Colegio de Santa Isabel) along Columbia Avenue (now Taft Avenue).  In 1923, the second sister organization, the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (SSpSAp i.e. Congregatio Servarum Spiritus Sancti de Adoratione perpetua) arrived in the Philippines, and start their ministry in the province of Batangas, before moving to the newly chartered Baguio City, and found the Blessed Sacrament Convent in 1931. Meanwhile, the SVD brothers organized the Catholic Trade School, in 1924, at the Santa Cruz district of Manila. Although the school didn’t last the long, the school’s printing press office would flourish, and become part of the present SVD Communications Apostolate.

With the exception of the Mindoro apostolate and the 1935 SVD priests taking over the Jesuit’s Colegio de San Ildefonso (est. 1595), in Cebu City, and turning it into the University of San Carlos (est. 1935); most other SVD missions and institutional founding in the Visayas and Mindanao began after World War II (1939-1945). This slowing down of the missions may have been due to the death of several SVD priests, and the 1918 exile of seven SVD missionaries from the province of Abra by the Americans who distrusted the German and Dutch priests. Although more American and European missionaries were send to the Philippines, a need to train Filipino SVD missionaries was urgently needed. Granting there were SVD schools in Ilocos and Abra, a Manila based school was sorely needed due to its proximity to the major ports and the ease of obtaining goods.

However, Manila was becoming too congested, with hardly any large empty tracts of land to build. And with the United States of America Congress’ Act 1120 or “The Friar Land Act,” where the American colonial government was able to purchase 170,000 hectares of estates owned by various Catholic orders during the Spanish colonialization of the Philippines (1565-1898), many of these idle land were open for development. And in what was then still part of Municipality of San Juan del Monte, the Ysmael clan’s Hacienda Magdalena (now called New Manila), gave some of their properties to religious institutions. The first religious body founded in the hacienda was the Discalced Carmelites’ Carmel of Thérèse of Lisieux (est. 1925) along Gilmore Avenue, followed by the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres Novitiate and Provincial House (est. 1931) along the Marikina-Infanta Highway, and finally the Franciscan’s St. Joseph’s Academy and Convent (est. 1932) also on the España Boulevard Extension. The SVD’s Christ the King Mission Seminary opened in 1933, becoming the fourth Catholic institution in the area.

Upon moving into the España Boulevard Extension property, the first buildings of the Christ the King Mission Seminary started as temporary wooden structures while the permanent concrete edifices were under construction. At the meantime, the SVD priests started administering to the local farming communities in the area, and in 1935 they established a chapel dedicated to the Spanish Saint Isidro (1080-1172), the patron saint of farmers and laborers.  This small chapel would grow in time, and become the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao (ICCC), which is now the home to the Archdiocese of Cubao.

Also called the Divine Word Mission Seminary, the school was first named the Christ the King Mission Seminary Martyr for Charity, and is the first Catholic seminary dedicated to Christ the King. The seminary’s first and oldest building standing is now known as the Buttenbruch Hall, which was named after seminary’s founder Fr. Theodore Buttenbruch (1886-1944), and was completed in 1934. Fr. Buttenbruch was part of the 3rd wave of SVD missionaries, who arrived in 1912, and he is also founder of the Colegio del Sagrado Corazon in Bangued, Abra; which is now called the Divine Word College of Bangued. Fr. Buttenbruch was one of the SVD priests exiled by the American colonial government, and was only able to return to the Philippines in 1920. During World War II, the Christ the King Mission Seminary was occupied by the Japanese forces, effectively halting all operations. During that time, Fr. Buttenbruch used his German nationality to gain access to the prison camps in Camp Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac; Camp Pangatian in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija; the Carcel y Presidio Correccional in the port are of Manila, and the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa. At first, Fr. Buttenbruch moved freely through the camps, bringing food and medical aid to the American and Filipino prisoners of war. However, the Japanese began to suspect him as an American spy, and Fr. Buttenbruch was imprisoned in Fort Santiago for 72 days. Upon his release, Fr. Buttenbruch returned to the seminary and continued administering his priestly duties. And on the 12th of November 1944, Fr. Buttenbruch went to give mass at the Sacred Heart Church in nearby Kamuning and never came back, which raised speculations that he was kidnapped and murdered by the Japanese. For his bravery, Fr. Buttenbruch was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom with Golden Palm in 1948 by the American Far East Command.

It is interesting that the last known whereabouts of Fr. Buttenbruch was the Sacred Heart Parish, which he had founded. While the Immaculate Conception Cathedral was still as small chapel in the house of certain Carbonell family, Fr. Buttenbruch saw the need for a parish church, as the seminary’s chapel can serve the community as such. So in 1941, Fr. Buttenbruch established the Parroquia del Sagrado Corzaon de Jesus or Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in the nearby Barrio Obrero (worker’s barrio), and served as its first parish priest, who was fondly called “Padre Doro” by the residents. This housing site for government employees and their families has now become part of the newly established Quezon City, as well as the location of the Christ the King Mission Seminary. Now the church is known as the Sacred Heart Parish Shrine of Kamuning.

09 1930s Finnemann Hall
1930s Finnemann Hall

The Finnemann Hall is second oldest building in the Christ the King Mission Seminary compound, and it was also completed in the 1930s. With the original name long forgotten, the building was renamed after Bishop Wilhelm Finnemann (1882-1942), who had served as the auxiliary bishop of Manila in 1929, the chairman of the first National Eucharistic Congress in 1929, and the apostolic vicar of Calapan, Oriental Mindoro, from 1936 to 1942. Bishop Finnemann was also one of the SVD exiles, who returned to the Philippines in 1920. During the height of World War II, Bishop Finnemann would continually oppose the actions of the Japanese in Mindoro. The Japanese’s patient with the bishop met its breaking point, when Bishop Finnemann refused to turn over the Convent of the Holy Spirit Sisters to become a brothel for the Japanese. Bishop Finnemann was beaten and torture for six days, then later thrown off a boat and drowned.

10 2000 Julian C. Sta. Maria - Four Polish SVD Martyrs
2000 Julian C. Sta. Maria – Four Polish SVD Martyrs

In front of the Finnemann Hall is a monument to the four Polish SVD martyrs: educator and spiritual director Br. Aloujzy Liguda (1889-1942), receptionist and bookbinder Fr. Grzegorz Bolesław Frąckowiak (1911-1943), novice master Fr. Ludovicus Mzyk (1905-1940), and mission animator and communicator Fr. Stanislaus Kubista (1898-1940). Shortly after the 1939 Kampania Wrześniowa or German Invasion of Poland, the four SVD clergy men were arrested, placed in concentration camps, tortured and later killed by the Nazi invaders. In the year 2000, the monument was created and unveiled by a certain Julian C. Sta. Maria, one year after the four SVD clergymen were beatified.

At the parking lot between the Buttenbruch and Finnemann halls are two more sculptures by Julian C. Sta. Maria that exalts key persona in the SVD’s history. The first is a 1990 piece featuring St. Arnold Janssen conferring with the Austrian Saint Joseph Freinademetz (1852-1908), while the second work is that of Blessed Maria-Helena Bongard Stollenwerk (1852-1900). Saint Joseph Freinademetz was just a novitiate when he felt the calling to be a missionary overseas, so he approached Fr. Janssen in 1878, and was later deployed to Hong Kong in 1879, and later to Province of Shantung, China, where he would stay until his death. For his 29 years of missionary work, Fr. Freinademetz was given the Chinese moniker of Shèng Fú Ruòsè. Maria-Helena Stollenwerk, together with Fr. Janssen and Blessed Hendrina Stenmanns (1852-1903) co-founded the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS Latin: Servae Spiritus Sancti) 1889. Sr. Stollenwerk met Fr. Janssen and served under the SVD, until the founding of the SSpS. And from 1890 to 1898, Sr. Stollenwerk served as the Superior General, with the religious name of “Maria Virgo,” as she prepared the sisters for their missionary work all around the world.

The “newest” structure in the Christ the King Mission Seminary is the seminary chapel of the Diocesan Shrine of Jesus, The Divine Word. The church was designed by Fr. Friedrich Linzenbach, SVD (1904-1981), in the late 1960s, with Bro. Josef Hueger as Construction Engineer. The church is similar to his 1960s designs, which use many diagonal lines to create a very dynamic and modern design that uses natural light to dramatic effect. The fan or shell shaped church was first thought to be that of a dove in flight, but Fr. Linzenbach has employed similar shaped to resemble a fishing net cast to the sea. The chapel was declared a diocesan shrine in 2006, and a pilgrimage shrine in 2012.

Fr. Friedrich Linzenbach, SVD (1904-1981) served as the chief architect and director of planning of the Societas Verbi Divini for the latter half of the 20th Century. Fr. Linzenbach started his office was in Steyl, the Netherlands, but was later assigned in the 1930s as of the teachers and administrators of the Fu Jen Catholic University in Peking (now Beijing), which was relinquished by the American Benedictines to the SVD. But when the Communist Revolution took over China in 1949, the university was closed and Fr. Linzenbach and 5 other priests were first moved to New York, before he would he serve in the Philippines, where he designed the Our Lady of Guadalupe Minor Seminary, in Makati City, in 1955. When the Fu Jen Catholic University was reopened in Hsinchuang, Taiwan; Fr. Linzenbach joined the other missionaries, where he would design all the buildings, with the Tapinglin Holy Trinity Church (est. 1964) as the most notable. Upon finishing his work in Taiwan, Fr. Linzenbach was reassigned in 1964 to establish the St. Peter’s Boys Senior High School, Ghana, Africa. While completing his service in Ghana, Fr. Linzenbach would return to the Philippines to design the Diocesan Shrine of Jesus the Divine Word. Back in Steyl, Fr. Linzenbach wrote the book “Arquitectura Religiosa en Climas Cálidos” (Religious Architecture in Warm Climates) in 1975.

The sculptures in the Diocesan Shrine of Jesus the Divine Word were designed by Fr. Linzenbach and the German artist, Ewald Wilhelm Hubert Mataré (1887-1965). Both Fr. Linzenbach and Mataré had very avant-garde aesthetics in art and archtitecture, starting by breaking the mold of a traditional church, by removing the image of Crucified Christ at the altar, and replacing it with a colossal stained glass window of Christ the King, in a Brzantine-gnostic inspired imagery. The traditional statue of the Christ is now a expressionist styled beardless Risen Christ, standing in front of the church façade, greeting all those who come to the church. At the roof of the porch are tow gargoyles of lion heads, instead of grotesques. Inside the church are the similarly expressionist images of Saint Paul, Saint Peter and Saint Joseph at the north apse; and the Archangel Gabriel, Blessed Virgin Mary, and Archangel Michael at the south apse.

South Apse, Archangel Gabriel, Blessed Virgin Mary, and Archangel Michael
South Apse, Archangel Gabriel, Blessed Virgin Mary, and Archangel Michael
15A P. Lynn - North Apse, Saint Paul, Saint Peter and Saint Joseph
North Apse, Saint Paul, Saint Peter and Saint Joseph

Ewald Wilhelm Hubert Mataré (1887-1965) was a advent-garde German sculptor, who took his formal arts education at the Preußische Akademie der Künste (Prussian Academy of Arts) in Berlin in 1907. At the Akademie, Mataré studied the classical styles under Julius Ehrentraut (1841-1923) and Arthur Kampf (1864-1950), but was greatly influenced by the expressionist styles of Lovis Corinth (1858–1925). This would lead Mataré to joining the expressionist Novembergruppe (November Group) in 1918. While teaching at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Hitler’s Machtergreifung (Rise to Power) brought Mataré’s work to negative light, and was branded as a “degenerate” are removed from his teaching position. This included the demeaning exhibition of his work in the “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) exhibition by the Nazis, in 1937. Due to the Nazi condemnation, Mataré survived on church commissions, which he continued after the work, including four doors for the south portal of the Cologne Cathedral.  After the war, Mataré was invited to become the director of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, but declined the position due to the presence of some faculty who were former supporters of the Third Reich. Instead, Mataré held an off-campus studio classes, where he taught such noted modernist artists as Erwin Heerich (1922-2004), Georg Meistermann (1911-1990), and Joseph Beuys (1921-1986).

16 2015 Kid Baldemor - St. Arnold Janssen & St. Joseph Freinademtz
2015 Kid Baldemor – St. Arnold Janssen & St. Joseph Freinademtz

Two new sculptures installed in the Diocesan Shrine of Jesus the Divine Word, are the wooden images of St. Arnold Janssen and St. Joseph Freinademtz, by Felix “Kid” Baldemor. Hailing from the sculptors’ town of Paete, Laguna Province, Baldemor completed the two icons in 2015.

Aside from the Diocesan Shrine of Jesus the Divine Word and the Buttenbruch and Finnemann halls, other structures in the Christ the King Mission Seminary are a cover court for events and sports, the faculty building, the Villa Cristo Rey retirement and rest home of old and ailing SVD clergy, and the Sementeryo ng Mga Relihiyoso (Cemetery of the Religious) where the SVD missionaries are buried. The latest development in the Christ the King Mission Seminary compound is the Garden of the Divine Word, which will be the subject of the next article.

Christ the King Mission Seminary.png


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